4 fun things to do with your chosen family if you're not spending the holidays with your bio fam

Alaina Leary

December can be a hard month for many people, and it’s especially hard if you’re not close with your family of origin. While everyone else is sharing photos of their families with the menorah or videos of their little sisters totally nailing the pitch for caroling, you might be feeling left out (and, honestly, a little sad).

It’s normal to experience some FOMO during the holiday season, but you can also turn it into an excuse to make a list of things you want to do with friends and chosen family instead. We often put so much emphasis on family of origin during this time of year, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Spend some time nurturing your relationships with your chosen family this year, and reach out to people you trust if you’re feeling particularly lonely or in need of support.

Here are a few things you can do in December with your friends:

1Create your own holiday traditions.


Celebrating Friendsgiving is really common among college students and recent grads who maybe don’t have the ability or desire to travel to see their families of origin. Why not do the same thing with other holidays? You and your friends can celebrate your favorite holiday traditions, whether you observe Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Yule, or something else.

You can choose to celebrate on the day(s) when the holidays actually fall, or designate a day that works for everyone. Maybe one of your friends goes to his boyfriend’s family dinner and you really want him there, so you work around it. Or you all have wildly different work schedules and some people’s jobs require them to be on the clock extra hours during the holidays.

The best thing about making your own traditions is that you and your friends can really choose the traditions and ways to celebrate that work for you—and leave the rest. If you really love latkes, you can make sure to serve them, but you don’t have to go to a Christmas Eve mass if you don’t want to. It’s all about figuring out ways to celebrate that make you feel connected.

2Do a gift exchange.


Another great thing about your friends is that they get it if you’re broke and can’t spend $50 apiece on presents for all of them. There’s not as much ridiculous pressure as families of origin sometimes put on the holiday season, so you can really design gift-giving rules that work for you.

If you care a lot about sustainability and a low-waste lifestyle, you can ask your friends to only get you things that are in line with those values (extra wrapping paper not necessary). If homemade gifts and cards are more within your budget, you can opt for that. You can get competitive with a gift swap and all vie for the best presents, or do something quieter by picking names out of a hat. Or you can forgo exchanging gifts altogether and donate your time and money—maybe there’s a local organization that’s looking for toys for kids or winter jackets for people who need them.

3Make a December bucket list—and then try to cross off some items.


If you’re having a hard time pinning down everything you want to do this season, why not make a list? Writing it down will give you something to refer back to, and even if the list is pretty aspirational (you know there’s no way you’ll actually make it to a ski resort, even though you want to), it’ll give you something to look forward to and plan. Put things on it that are relatively low-stress and easy to pull off, and include some things that may require more time, money, and energy for those days when you feel like you can do everything.

Here are a few suggestions for what you can include:

  • Have a cheesy holiday movie night
  • Go ice skating
  • Play a dreidel game
  • Volunteer at a local organization (especially if they need extra help in the winter)
  • See a seasonal play or theatre production
  • Bake cookies or other festive treats
  • Take a picture with Santa (it’s pretty hilarious as an adult)
  • Throw an ugly sweater party
  • Decorate your space
  • Play in the snow (if it snows where you are)

4Simply check in with each other.


Sometimes the best, most low-stress thing you can do is just check in with someone and respond honestly when they check in with you. This is extra important if you and your friends don’t live close to each other and don’t get to see each other very often. And an in-person meetup can be hard to make happen when you’re busy and exhausted, so taking the time to be present in a way that works for you both is important. Send a text. Schedule a video call. Talk on the phone. Write a letter and mail it (who doesn’t love getting physical mail?).

December doesn’t have to be a bummer just because you’re not in a good place with your family of origin. That’s exactly what friends and chosen family are for—to make the season worth celebrating and show up when we need them most. That’s why we call ’em chosen family, because we chose each other and continue to do so every day.